I found this true story very similar to Tara Westover’s “Educated”. A deep and disturbing look at how children survive growing up in dysfunctional, often violent, and deeply impoverished family.
Tracing Jeannette Walls climb out of poverty and neglect to her life today as a successful writer and contributor for the likes of Esquire and MSNBC. The Glass Castle is an astonishing look at an all to common and oft ignored American tragedy of childhood neglect.
Jeannette Walls and her three siblings are raised by a brilliant father who is also a raging alcoholic. Her free-spirited mother has little interest in domestic life, leaves her children to fend for themselves, even when she has the financial opportunity to provide and pull them out of despair and poverty.
The Walls children are forced to learn to take care of themselves and each other, nearly starving or freezing to death in the cold winters.
Eventually making her way to New York, getting an education and a good job, Jeannette finds it impossible to talk about her upbringing or the fact that her parents are living homeless on the streets of New York. She is ashamed of them and the way they live. Until she is encouraged by those closest to her, to tell this real life story of surviving neglect and despair, even while still loving her parents.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Four stars for The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. Read last week’s review of My Sister’s Keeper.
This is not a blog about everything you should do when visiting Bagan. There are no recommendations on hotels or restaurants or which temples are the most austere. There are plenty of those blogs already written.
There is an old women. She looks 80 but a life of labor probably means she is closer to my age of 59. She rolls cigars for a living…rolled from corn husks and filled with a mixture of tobacco and chunks of palm wood.
This is a blog about the way Bagan Myanmar makes me feel. A feeling I find difficult to describe or explain. Nonetheless this is me reflecting on Bagan.
The more I travel the more I find myself conflicted about travel…all the while also finding myself needing to travel more. It’s an addiction plain and simple. This insatiable desire to get at the nerve of a place and really feel it’s soul.
Hunched over a loom she makes cloth from cotton she has grown, dyed and spun into thread. She spends her days weaving to sell to the tourists and to provide the traditional skirts both men and women wear.
I’m conflicted because I don’t want to contribute to “over-tourism” – one of our current catch words of the decade. Though I practice conscientious travel my nomad life has me often seated in a jet airplane, frequently drinking plastic bottled water when no other options present themselves and participating in a growing global tourism culture in places few people have ever been until recently.
Thus here I am reflecting on Bagan.
Since before puberty she has worn the brass rings around her neck as one of the unique women of the Kayan tribe. Now later in her life, removing the rings could kill her. She has spent 50 years bound this way and even when the tourists stare she is proud.
I stand at a temple (a place where you worship Buddha inside) or a stupa (a usually dome topped monument to worship from the outside) and I find myself thinking much more about human life than about ancient structures. As I have gazed on the pyramids at Giza (Egypt 4500 years), the Mayan Temples of Guatemala (3000 years), the white marble Taj Mahal (India 400 years) and the Roman Road of the Camino de Santiago (Spain 2000 years) I see people more than structures.
In my reflection I’m less inclined to convince more visitors to come here than I am to search for meaning as to why I have been called to be here? Why has my life led me to witness.
I want to remember and honor and understand the remarkable human beings who walked this same ground I’m on, yet thousand of years before. Who were they? Young or old? Did they have families? Were they hungry? Happy? Whole?
I am fascinated at the thought of workers and slaves who by force or by faith built the great structures of our world. The precise stone monument of Machu Picchu (Peru 600 year), the precariously placed mountain top Sri Lankan fort of Sigiriya (1500 year) , the astonishing stone carved temple of Lalibela (Ethiopia 1500 years) or the massive and sprawling city of Angor Wat (Cambodia 900 years).
Beyond this curiosity about these ancient societies I also find myself drawn to more recent history. Meeting a tiny little cigar puffing 80-year old Burmese woman and wondering what she feels about the changes here over her lifetime. Eighty years ago Burma was a British Colony and the native people were suppressed under British rule. They cultivated the fields all around these more than 4000 ancient temples with little knowledge or awareness to understand the history that happened here. Making sure they knew where their next meal was coming from was more important.
Twenty years ago tourists began to come to the newly named country of Myanmar. Seven years ago a new government began to really push Bagan as a tourist destination and four-months ago Bagan became the newest UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A lot of changes in a few years. And though a UNESCO designation will breath new life into conservation and preservation efforts it will also bring a vast number of more tourists and continue to change the ancient way of life.
For me I find people and their cultures more fascinating than structures. The history of life. The culture of 4000 years ago and the culture of 100 years ago hold the same fascination for me. I think about the farmer who for generations planted his fields around the giant stones laying on the ground that we now know as Stonehenge (England 5000 years). Or the farmer in China just out digging a new well less than sixty years ago who discovered the incredible archeological site we now know as the Terracotta Warriors (2000 years). Or a British explorer looking for one thing and stumbling upon the ancient buried city of Ephesus (Turkey 1000 years). Just real everyday people discovering remarkable antiquities in a world fascinated with ancient ruins.
A beautiful young woman wearing the traditional thanaka paste on her face sells fans and postcards outside the temple. She uses her English to engage with visitors and her smile to enchant.
As I am reflecting on Bagan I want to embrace and honor the culture of the place, all while knowing much of it is gone or going with the influx of visitors like myself.
An old woman invites a stranger into her courtyard and serves them tea – expecting no donation or payment. This is her culture and she preserves it. She chats away in a language we don’t know and puffs on her cigar. She cackles loudly showing cigar stained teeth. She firmly grasps my hand as we depart with a well worn paw that has seen decades of labor. Her gesture is genuine, lovely, and will disappear likely in the next generation.
I don’t know where this leaves me, except in a quandary to do my best to show respect and reverence to the remarkable cultures I am so very blessed to touch, if only briefly.
Conflicted in Bagan. Beautiful, precarious, real Bagan. Reflecting on Bagan.
I’m not a huge fan of Jodi Picoult. I’ve read a few of her novels, and her work reminds me of Lianne Moriarty and Anitia Shreve and probably some others I can’t think of. I have a personal bias, probably not justified, but there it is. The bias for me is how MANY books they pump out. Book after book after book. Wow. Like a machine.
Alas I know though how loved these authors and others like them are for their easy reading and usually heartfelt characters and plots. And in Picoult’s case, often focused on topics torn from today’s news.
So it is with My Sister’s Keeper, a paperback I found and enjoyed at our Airbnb on the island of Langkawi.
My Sister’s Keeper brings us a family in turmoil. A family who has dealt with their daughters leukemia for a decade. A family who chose to have another baby – a genetically designed baby – to provide umbilical cord cells to the other sick daughter.
When Anna is born, she is loved by her parents, but her entire life is spent trying to save their first daughter Kate. At age 13, Anna decides she has given enough of herself; cells, blood, and bone marrow and she makes the excruciating decision to say “no more”.
This is a story of ethics, parenting, cancer and family. This is a story that no parent ever wants to find themselves in. Is one child’s life more important than another? How will the collision of genetics, ethics and rights of a child conclude?
This book kept my attention and I felt sorry for all concerned in this story, but to be honest I hated the ending. I really hated it. I thought it was all too convenient the way it wrapped up, and would much rather have seen it end in a different, more expected way with less drama and tragedy.
A week or so before we arrived in Langkawi we met a young women who was concerned when we told her we would be on the island of Langkawi in Malaysia for 26 days. She felt we didn’t understand how little there is to do here.
We laughed about it later. Our favorite places in the world are the places with little to do. We particularly enjoy island-time and take it whenever we can get it. And our time here languishing on Langkawi has served us well both physically and mentally.
Although we spent many days doing pretty close to nothing, we also have enjoyed several busy and active days around the island. And after getting to know this small (25 miles long and 12 miles wide) island just off the coast of Malaysia and Thailand, I would argue that there is indeed plenty to do here.
Most people come here for three or four days. Maybe a week. When we told the young man on the beach who peddles the beach chairs we would be here for more than three weeks he was amazed. He said it was unusual. We have also noticed our age bracket here is unusual. Langkawi seems to be an itinerary of the young-backpacker and honeymooners …with a handful of people in their forties and fifties. We haven’t met any other Americans but it seems popular with the Chinese, Koreans, Indians, Malaysians, Germans and Australians.
Our languishing on Langkawi days have often been spent at Pantai Cenang, Langkawi’s most popular beach. It’s a two-minute walk to Cenang (pronounced ‘Chenang’) from our Airbnb and we can rent two chairs for the entire day for $5. The water is ridiculously warm and Cenang is the best place to watch the sunset. Although we did none of these things, it’s very popular (and seems relatively cheap) to go parasailing, rent jet-skis, ride on a banana boat, go island hopping or take a mangrove tour.
Cenang has lots of hotels, restaurants and shopping. We enjoyed fantastic meals at Happy Happy Chinese Seafood and The Cliff Restaurant but probably my favorite meal was at Yasmine Syrian Restaurant. We also enjoyed several small sidewalk food stalls especially the Lebanese Shawarma Kebab sidewalk cafe and the Warung Cafe for breakfast.
We rented a car on three separate days over our 26 day stay, when we felt ready to get out and see more of the island. The rental car cost us $20 a day while gas runs about $2 a gallon. There really isn’t much public transportation but we found Grab (Uber) to be very efficient and super cheap.
The first day in the rental car we went to the Langkawi Cable Car and rode to the top for spectacular views. It’s relatively expensive by Malaysia standards ($20 pp) but worth it. From the top you can pay an extra $4 pp to walk out on the Sky Bridge. It was foggy when we were there but still a spectacular thing to do. Next we hiked the Seven Wells Waterfall. Free but ouch. It was 600 steps up and boy did I feel that in the morning. But it was worth it. Really beautiful. The waterfall has beautiful pools you can enjoy as part of your languishing in Langkawi efforts. We did not do the Umgawa Zipline, but it seems popular at around $100 pp.
Our second day in the car we drove to Temuran Waterfall in the northwest corner of the island. This is Langkawi’s highest waterfall and it was really spectacular. It’s much easier to access (200 steps) and also has a lovely pool at the base of the falls to cool off once you arrive.
Next we stopped to take a peek at the small but beautiful Pantai Tengorak Beach, but because there was a school field trip there we decided to move on. We enjoyed a spectacular fish-and-chips lunch with view at Scarborough Fish and Chips before heading next door to a much bigger and very beautiful beach called Pantai Tanjung Rhu. We spent several hours here. The water like a bathtub.
Back in Cenang we enjoyed one evening at the Aseania Resort where twice a week they offer a “Cultural Show and BBQ”. Think Luau. Similar to many such shows we have done around the world (New Zealand, Australia, Easter Island, Spain, Portugal, Hawaii), even though it is touristy it’s always fun, informative and delicious. Even though the sound system could use an upgrade, I was really glad we went. At $15 pp and all you can eat, you can’t beat it.
We spent three separate days enjoying day-passes at two beautiful beach resorts. We walked three miles to Resorts World Langkawi at the tip of the peninsula. For $10 we had access all day to their infinity pool, enjoyed pizza and a drink. Two days we walked one mile to Dash Resort. An all-day pass here was $9 and included a drink. It’s a nice way to take a break from the beach and feel a bit pampered. We liked the pool at Dash the best.
We went to the Thursday-only Langkawi Night Market which is tiny but we grazed our way through and had a full-meal for two for about $7. There is also a nightly food truck area right off the main drag- we weren’t overly impressed with the offerings so we never ate there.
Nearly every morning we did a beach and boardwalk run, taking advantage of the flat and beautiful terrain around Cenang to get back into running shape. I really appreciated having the time to do that.
Speaking of running, while we were on Langkawi the island hosted the Malaysia Ironman. What a spectacle that was! It was very difficult to get around during the event as so many roads were closed so we were only able to enjoy the finish line which was very near to our Airbnb. Super fun and exciting to witness an event like this. This is considered the second most difficult Ironman in the world. We saw the top three, all who beat the the course record despite the unusually warm day. It gave me goosebumps to watch them get their medals. What an accomplishment.
The following week we rented a car again for one more day of exploring. We drove around the southern road of the island to the town of Kuah. It’s a big town with lots of shopping and resorts. Not really something we are interested in but we wanted to see it. We then headed north with the intention of going to the Lucky Temple, a Buddhist Temple that accepts visitors. But we couldn’t find it. So next we headed to the Langkawi Cultural Craft Center. I was wishing I had more room in my suitcase for some of the beautiful baskets. I did purchase a beautiful hand painted Kaftan. We spent some time at the beach before heading back to Kuah to the Wednesday Night Market there.
Sunset in Cenang is pretty amazing. Our favorite places to watch sunset was from the rooftop of the El Toro Mexican Restaurant with a margarita in hand, or from the rooftop Flo Lounge on top of the Nadia Hotel. Our favorite beachside bar was Thirstday or we would bring our own scotch down to the beach for a nightcap.
Speaking of Scotch, the entire island of Langkawi is a Duty Free Zone. I don’t know why but lucky for us. We could buy a case of beer for $15, a liter of gin for $9 and a really nice bottle of Aberlour Scotch for $50. Aberlour 12 year in the USA would sell for about $90.
Strangely though, few restaurants serve alcohol since the majority of the businesses are Muslim owned. But you can find a drink in hotel and beach bars.
Sometimes we would take a long walk instead of going to the beach. Although the humidity can be tough, there are few cars on the roads and it felt good to get out and just walk around.
For nightly free entertainment there is never a dull moment down at the beach after sunset. The tiny town really comes alive, and pop up hookah lounges, fire dancers and foot massage studios take over the beach after dark. You can kick back all night in beach bean bag chairs if that’s your thing – definitely fits the languishing on Langkawi theme don’t you think?
We were on the tail end of Malaysia’s rainy season and during our visit to Langkawi and other parts of Malaysia we witnessed some crazy big tropical storms. But always the sun would return eventually. Other than during the Ironman and the week of the Indian holiday of Diwali, most hotels and restaurants and tourist attractions were lightly populated. High season will begin in November.
At the end of our visit, we had hoped to do a guided sunrise hike to the top of Gunung Raya, the highest point on Langkawi. But the weather did not cooperate so we had to cancel. So instead I booked a spa day at Alun Alun Spa in Cenang. It was really nice. I had a manicure, pedicure and a facial. There are many, many places in Cenang hawking foot massage, manicure, full-body massage etc. BUT since I am very particular about hygiene I decided to go to the more expensive and upsacale Alun Alun. I was really glad I did.
After nearly a month languishing on Langkawi -this tiny island ranks pretty high for me as a great place to both kick back and relax AND find plenty of things to keep busy. We were never bored. It fit our definition of island life pretty well, whether languishing on Langkawi or being on the go.
After forty days in Malaysia it’s time to go. Malaysia now falls fourth in the list of countries we have stayed in the longest (Spain, Thailand, New Zealand are the top three). But Malaysia ties for first place as the least expensive country for our travels – tied with Bulgaria. Coming in third is the Maldives.
Thanks Langkawi. Terima Kasih Malaysia. We have loved our time here.
Next stop Myanmar!
Please note WiFi in Myanmar is very poor. We will do our best to continue to post a Travel Blog each Friday and a Book Review each Wednesday. If you like what we are doing here, we would greatly appreciate you showing your love with a share or a pin!Please invite your friends to follow our blog. Thank you!
I had never read anything by Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Russo, but when I saw this book in our darling little neighborhood lending library it sounded like a winner. And yes it was. Here is my book review of Elsewhere by Richard Russo.
First of all this is a memoir. And a beautifully done one at that. I’ve thought a lot about memoir writing myself…perhaps I have a memoir in my own future. But not all memoirs are done as well as this one…a wonderful tale of Russo’s lifelong relationship with his mentally disturbed mother.
The story begins at the beginning. Russo’s childhood spent living with his grandparents and mother, with very rare appearances by his father. His very needy mother is certainly a loving mother, but also very focused on her own personal image no matter the cost. Her insatiable need to “appear” independent plagues Russo throughout his entire life. Because the reality is, she is not.
She tags along to Arizona when Russo goes to college. That’s right. What 18-year-old wants their mother at college with them? This is a great example of the relationship Russo and his mother have through out his life.
Only at the very end of her life and after her death is Russo able to really reconcile the fact that his mother had mental illness – having spent decades trying to make her happy, feeling much of her unhappiness was his fault.
This is a wonderful memoir of a life of mental illness, something in the 1950’s that was never spoken about. His mother was always said to just be “nervous”. Through this work it’s clear her problems were much deeper. Hopefully the book can open the discussion further about mental illness in the people we love.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Four stars for Elsewhere by Richard Russo. Read last week’s review of Maid.
After three weeks on Malaysia’s island of Langkawi, I’ve been thinking a lot about all the islands we have visited around the world. It’s a lot of islands. My favorite islands around the world are usually remote and small. But I have also loved some larger, populated and sometimes touristy islands. We are headed in January to the island of Mauritius – I’m looking forward to six whole weeks there! Just call me Island Girl.
We have been working on our travel plans for the rest of the Grand Adventure 3.0 and have just booked two weeks on the island of Cyprus in April and more than three weeks on the island of Malta in May. There are several other favorite islands around the world that are high on our bucket list we hope to visit over the next few years including Madagascar, Sao Tome, Cuba, Jamaica and Guernsey…to name a few. Ahh my bucket list never seems to get any shorter.
So in today’s blog I thought I would share some of my favorite islands around the world, and a brief description of why they make my fav list. There are several other islands we have visited I don’t mention here…I had to narrow it down. But if you have ever considered traveling to any of these – here are my recommendations;
Very quiet but also expensive. Beaches are nice but having a car at least part of the time is a must if you need to shop. Groceries are very expensive and produce is difficult to get. The people are quiet but nice and it is just beautiful. Boats available to visit other islands.
Don’t miss swimming at Gold Beach Anse Volbert-Côte D’Or,
In October Antiparos was really quiet as the season ends in September. But we had exceptional weather. Some restaurants and businesses in the tiny town were closed for the season but we found everything we needed at reasonable prices. Ferries available to surrounding islands.
By far the tiniest island we have been on, this very low lying Maldivian island is actually an atoll, made up of coral. The weather was incredible and we had the most relaxing three weeks of our life here. Best one day snorkeling of my life off of Huraa. Very little to do, and nearly no shopping. Note that there is no alcohol on this Muslim island!
Size 150 X 500 miles (12th largest island in the world)
Population 1.3 million
Best time to visit December to May
Where we stayed – we rented a caravan and traveled around
New Zealand is downright amazing. We loved both the North and South Island and we would really love to go back and visit again. This is not a laying in the sun island. Rather it is an island for all things recreational: hiking, walking, cycling, bird watching and more. Absolutely stunning. And ridiculously expensive.
It’s been a long time since I visited magical Mackinac and I sure would love to go again. It is so unique, especially in the USA, to find a place with no motor vehicles. Both times I was there in the summer with beautiful weather. Renting bikes and riding around the island is a highlight.
I’m lucky to count myself as one who has visited every Hawaiian Island that isn’t privately owned, and hands down Maui is the best. It is expensive but beyond that everything about it is perfect – the weather, the water, the beach, the food, the activities and the fact for people who live on the west coast of the USA, it’s really easy to get to.
Don’t miss whale watching for humpback whales in the winter months
We loved our time on both of these beautiful islands. Bali is very popular with tourists for its beauty, beaches and vibe. Lombok on the other hand is a unique, tiny and non-touristy island where we spent six glorious days doing nothing but laying in a hammock.
Don’t miss an authentic Balinese Cultural performance in Ubud
I visited Zanzibar with my sister after spending a week on a safari in mainland Tanzania. It remains one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. It is also the second worst sunburn I have got. The white sand beaches are amazing. The people are quiet and kind. The seafood delicious.
Don’t miss a ride in an authentic Zanzibar Dhow Boat
Definitely one of the most interesting places I have ever been. This tiny island out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is difficult to get to and expensive but worth it. We loved our time here learning about the Moai and the history of Rapa Nui. I highly recommend.
Don’t miss touring with an authorized tour guide to understand the amazing statues and history of this island
We did a five day tour with a guide around the major sites of Sri Lanka seeing some of the most amazing things including the astonishing Sigiriya ancient mountain fortress. Then we kicked back for more than two weeks in a tiny hut on the beach in Hikkadua, which ended up being “interesting” but super fun and the weather and the beach were perfect. The Sri Lankan people are some of the kindest on the planet.
Don’t miss Sigiriya Fortress one of the most incredible things I have ever seen
Size 50 x 80 miles (Isla Isabela, the largest of the archipelago)
Best time to visit January to June
Where we stayed – we were on a small 12 person cruise
My first dip into my bucket list was this trip to the Galapagos Islands to celebrate my 50th birthday. Living on a boat for five nights we saw many islands and the most amazing collection of wildlife and sea life. We loved every minute of it and although it’s expensive, we recommend it to anyone!
We only had a couple of days in Singapore, the teeny island city/state that is one of the most expensive places in the world. It is also one of the cleanest and most colorful, particularly at night. I hope to return.
Don’t miss the Singapore Gardens by the Bay at night and the amazing Singapore Botanic Garden
We only had a couple of day on Nantucket but we were traveling with our young children at the time and it was a great little place for a family vacation. We were there in spring before the hoard of tourists descend in the summer and it was peaceful and beautiful and historic.
Don’t miss a Clam Bake and riding bikes around the island
We drove up to the Maritimes from Boston and enjoyed the drive as much as the islands. Prince Edward Island was still at that time very quiet and we enjoyed riding bikes, eating lobster and learning about history.
Don’t miss searching for sea glass at Souris Beaches
Average temperature – Honshu is a big island with multiple climates but Tokyo average summer high is 80 F
Size 150 x 500 miles
Population 104 million (2nd most populous island after Java Indonesia)
Best time to visit – March to May and September to November
We spent five weeks exploring the island of Honshu. Our kids were little and it was a magical time for us as a family. Japan is one of the most unique and beautiful places in the world. I hope to go back some day.
I have visited these islands many times as they are in the backyard of where I grew up
Average Temperature 55 F
Size – there are nine islands in varying sizes. The two largest are Orcas and San Juan
Best time to visit – Summer months
We have traveled to nearly all of the islands over my lifetime growing up in the Pacific Northwest. The islands are a great place for family camping or romantic getaways. Hiking, cycling and kayaking are popular.
Don’t miss getting up close and personal with the famous J-Pod of Orca Whales on a whale watching tour.
Book Review Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land.
Like last week, the book I am reviewing this week is by a Seattle area author. It is a memoir of her hard-scrabble, (nearly) single-mother life and how she climbed out of that life to save both she and her daughter.
At 28-years old Stephanie Land is about to make her dream of attending university and becoming a writer come true, when she finds out she is pregnant from a summer fling.
All plans go on hold for the next five years as Stephanie struggles to feed her child and keep a roof over her head. With constant verbal abuse from the father of the child as well as little support from a boyfriend, Stephanie works as a maid in homes all over the area she lives in outside of Seattle. Making barely enough to get by, Stephanie sees the nitty-gritty of people’s lives as she cleans the homes of upper-class middle America, while only rarely ever actually meeting or talking to them. She sees unhappy couples, dyeing and depressed old people, families who aren’t exactly the perfect picture they show the world. All while barely making minimum wage.
Neither of Stephanie’s parents are supportive or in her life. She has no one. After living in a mold-infested apartment for a year she realizes the mold is making both her and her daughter sick. She has nowhere to go. Her resources are exhausted.
Stephanie finds an advocate at a domestic violence non-profit where she was a volunteer. Through this advocate she begins to realize her own worth and that she can make some changes in her life. She applies for scholarships and financial aid and gets what she needs to re-visit her dream of college.
And obviously she does very well there, as she now is a well-respected freelance author with work featured in The New York Times, New York Review, The Washington Post and many other publications. She focuses on social and economic justice as a writing fellow for Community Change.